Made at the time when Arnold Schwarzenegger was the king of the summer action movie, 1990’s Total Recall is an entertaining popcorn thriller that probably isn’t being dissected by budding film students as an example of cinema at its best.
Odds are film students won’t be dissecting Len Wiseman’s Total Recall reboot either. Like its predecessor, it has no aspirations beyond a popcorn action thriller.
And while there are some minor tweaks to the original story and some at attempt to give this Recall a different visual look and feel (and a lot of lens flare!), if you’ve seen the original, you’ve pretty much seen the new version as well. Odds are younger viewers who aren’t familiar with the original will get a big kick out of this one while older viewers like myself who saw the original in theaters or on VHS will likely be disappointed that the writers weren’t willing to play more with some of the more intriguing concepts and questions raised by the original script and the rebooted version.
The new Recall may be a bit more visually stylish and take a page from Blade Runner for the look and feel of its future universe, but it’s still a very disposable film–especially compared to some of the heavy hitters from the summer of 2012 like The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises.
That’s not to say the new Recall is a terrible movie. It’s just a disappointing one given all the talent on hand in front of and behind the camera. Wiseman has proved himself to be a solid director with the Underworld series and he handles the action sequences of the film very well. One memorable action sequence features actresses Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel duking it out in the confined space of an out of a control elevator. And while Beckinsale is well served as the duplicitous and driven antagonist and pursuer (think Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive with a bit of Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer thrown in for good measure), the rest of the cast isn’t given nearly as much interesting material.
This is especially true of the one-note role for Emmy winner Bryan Cranston. If you’re familiar with his work from TV’s superlative Breaking Bad (and if you’re not, stop reading this review and go start watching!), then you know that Cranston can be one hell of a sinister, manipulative and scary SOB. The new Recall tries to have Cranston do that as well, but his role here makes him more of a mustache twirling villain than anything more substantial.
It also features a couple of homages to the original film (for example, the woman with three breasts is included) but it falls short of having any cameos by cast members from the original (the film almost screams for a cameo from Arnold).
Total Recall isn’t a failure but it isn’t an overwhelming success either. It’s content to be a summer popcorn action flick and if you go in with your expectations set to the right level, you won’t likely be too disappointed by it.